Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Children attending school wearing mask. (iStockphoto)
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If Manipur Schools Are Not Reopened Soon While the Rest of India Has Reopened, Manipur Will Miss a Generation

While all the states and union territories of India have already reopened schools and the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also recently announced that schools will reopen for classes 9 to 12 from November 16 why Manipur government is still not ready to reopen schools? On October 23 also, Imphal Reviews of Arts and Politics (IRAP) published that while all schools across India reopen, Manipur Government is yet to decide.

However, the reports said that the schools in the hill districts of Manipur have reopened as if there are two sets of systems, one for the hill districts and another for the valley districts.

Meanwhile, the Manipur Education Minister Sorokhaibam Rajen on November 4 said, that there were no plans to reopen schools and other educational institutes for now. He was talking to reporters to clarify news reports that said some private schools in two hill districts of the State had reopened, while schools in the valley districts were not allowed to reopen. The schools have been continuously closed with a brief opening in the beginning of this year.

Giving the reason for not reopening of schools in Manipur, the Education Minister Rajen said, “We had closed the schools in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no fresh order to reopen any schools. We have written to the Home Department on the issue since this department has been giving the ‘go ahead’ orders.”

Moreover, Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren who is also Home Minister recently said action will be taken against the schools that reopened schools without government’s order. He also said the government would take steps to reopen schools and colleges once the COVID-19 situation eased. The recovery rate was hovering between 5 and 6% and experts had said it was not advisable to reopen the schools now at this stage, he noted.

Manipur Education Minister Rajen further said that there are no vaccines for children below 18 years. In case of fresh infections among school students, it would pose problems.

Manipur Health Service Director Dr K Rajo also recently said that the health directorate does not encourage reopening of schools and colleges despite the fall in COVID-19 cases for the past few days. So far, around 21,214 children below 18 years of age have tested positive for Covid-19 till September 10, putting the number of positive cases to around 18.6 percent. As the Covid positivity and death rate have just come down to below 10 percent, there is no possibility of reopening schools in the near future. There is also a concern of the third wave hitting the State, Health director Dr K Rajo has stated.

Positivity-Death Graph from August 1

Speaking to media during the weekly Covid press briefing held at State Ophthalmic Cell, Lamphelpat Dr K Rajo on September 16 informed that a meeting was held with the additional director of health to discuss issue regarding reopening of schools.

Earlier State Health Director said once the positivity rate falls below 5 per cent, the proposal of reopening of schools could be discussed with the authorities concerned, he said, while adding that the health department will also offer its opinion.

The director further said if the Covid 19 situation improves da-by-day, schools would also gradually reopen.

At the time, students could attend classes in batches, while maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, hygiene and sanitation, proper ventilation of classrooms, installation of additional exhaust fans, increasing number of soaps, adequate supply of water, preventing students from gathering and encouraging private transportation to schools, which may be difficult.

However, schools vans could transport the students in minimum numbers. “Schools cannot be opened recklessly. Once the positive and death rate comes down, the health minister and officials concerned will take up necessary steps.

Meanwhile, State Government officials on November 3 held a meeting to discuss opening of schools in the state which have remained closed for long period due to the pandemic, as Covid-19 cases have been decreasing for a while now in the state.

Reports said the meeting held at SSA hall, Babupara was chaired by Education (S) commissioner M Harekrishna and attended by department officials discussed various conditions for opening of the schools as well maintaining of Covid-19 SOPs.

It also deliberated on various advance measures need to be taken up before the schools open, it they do re-open.

The measures discussed included RTPCR tests of teachers for every 20 days until they do not receive the full doses of vaccination; permission from parents for students to attend school; if the recommendation of opening of school given on November 2 is approved, then sanitation of schools premises; conduct of bridge course of 30-45 days for students before the start of new academic session of 2022 based on bridge course module provided by SCERT, etc.

Reports said the meeting also agreed that in hill districts lower level classes can start based on prevailing condition and approval of DCs and ZEOs concerned, but in valley districts classes VI to XII will continue to remain closed.

It was also resolved that all school staff must be vaccinated before opening of schools and further recommended that Education (S) director to consult with DCs and ZEOs concerned for taking up vaccination process for those who have not been vaccinated.

However, it is pertinent to raise few questions here – is COVID-19 vaccination a prerequisite for reopening of schools? Is vaccination the only measure to prevent from COVID-19 infections? Are there no other measures to prevent from COVID-19 infections amongst school children? If non production of vaccines for children below 18 years fearing fresh infections among school students is the scientific reason of continuing closure of schools, what about the other states and union territories of India?  If it is fear of possibility of spread of another variant of COVID-19 or third wave, will the variant or third wave spread only in Manipur?

Positivity-Death Graph from October 14

Meanwhile, the positivity rate of COVID-19 in Manipur has been consistently below 5% since October 14 with an exception of 5.88% on October while the number daily deaths is also below 4 with exceptions on October 15, 19 and 24 which had daily death records of 4 persons and no deaths on October 14, 18 and 23.

It may be mentioned that the UNICEF Statement on July 12 said:

“It’s been 18 months since the COVID-19 outbreak started and education for millions of children is still disrupted. As of today, primary and secondary schools are shuttered in 19 countries, affecting over 156 million students.

“This should not go on. Schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen.

“In their efforts to limit transmission, governments have too often shut down schools and kept them closed for prolonged periods, even when the epidemiological situation didn’t warrant it. These actions were frequently taken as a first recourse rather than a last measure. In many cases, schools were closed while bars and restaurants remained open.

“The losses that children and young people will incur from not being in school may never be recouped. From learning loss, mental distress, exposure to violence and abuse, to missed school-based meals and vaccinations or reduced development of social skills, the consequences for children will be felt in their academic achievement and societal engagement as well as physical and mental health. The most affected are often children in low-resource settings who do not have access to remote learning tools, and the youngest children who are at key developmental stages.

“The losses for parents and caretakers are equally heavy. Keeping children at home is forcing parents around the world to leave their jobs, especially in countries with no or limited family leave policies.

“That’s why reopening schools for in-person learning cannot wait.

“It cannot wait for cases to go to zero. There is clear evidence that primary and secondary schools are not among the main drivers of transmission. Meanwhile, the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools is manageable with appropriate mitigation strategies in most settings. The decision to open or close schools should be based on risk analysis and the epidemiological considerations in the communities where they are situated.

“Reopening schools cannot wait for all teachers and students to be vaccinated. With the global vaccine shortages plaguing low and middle-income countries, vaccinating frontline workers and those most at risk of severe illness and death will remain a priority. All schools should provide in-person learning as soon as possible, without barriers to access, including not mandating vaccination prior to school entry.

“Ahead of the Global Education Meeting on July 13, we urge decisionmakers and governments to prioritize the safe reopening of schools to avoid a generational catastrophe.

“Closing schools mortgages our future for unclear benefits to our present. We must prioritize better. We can reopen schools safely, and we must.”

Moreover, CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools also gives among Key Takeaways that “Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.”; “In addition to universal indoor masking, CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as screening testing.” and “Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect students, teachers, staff, visitors, and other members of their households and support in-person learning.”

Now is the time the State Government should give priority and consider seriously how to reopen schools soon as the rest of India have already reopened many months back and some states from last month. Otherwise, Manipur will miss a generation, saving a generation is not less than saving human lives. Saving human lives should not be at the cost of losing a generation of a small population of a small state in India. All their compatriots in India and the world are going to school while this generation of Manipur are not still allowed to study in their schools. Saving human lives and saving a generation should be holistic.

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